Apple introduces new rule to allow users to download apps from developers websites in the EU

Mar 14, 2024

Apple released iOS 17.4 last week to comply with the European Union's Digital Markets Act, to add support for third-party app marketplaces. Now, the Cupertino company has introduced more options for developers to distribute their apps to users.

Alternative app marketplaces

Apple had previously required developers to submit their apps to operators of app marketplaces. This is changing, developers of marketplaces can offer a catalog of apps that are solely created by the marketplace's developer, i.e. an exclusive catalog for their own apps.

Linking to external payment options

Developers had criticized Apple's restrictive rules and templates regarding third-party payment methods, such as the warning screen that was displayed to notify users when they were being redirected to other sites. Apple says that developers have new options for linking out to purchases, including how to design promotions, discounts, and other deals, when directing users to complete in-app purchases on an external web-page. Apple's default templates for promotions and purchases are now optional.

Developers can distribute iOS apps from their websites

App developers who don't want to host their apps on a marketplace or the App Store have another option to distribute their apps. They can allow users to download the apps directly from their websites, which is quite similar to how Android users sideload apps on their phone. Apple terms this option as Web Distribution, and sadly, this option too has some restrictions. Developers will need to enroll into the Apple Developer Program which has an annual membership fee, and they will be required to get their apps notarized by Apple. This is not new per se, as these rules are already in place for other iOS apps that are available on the App Store.

An important point to note is that developers will only be eligible for Web Distribution if they meet the following conditions. The developers must be enrolled in the App Developer Program as an organization incorporated, domiciled, and or registered in the EU, or have a subsidiary legal entity that operates in the EU.

In addition to the above rules, the app developers need to be a member of good standing in the Apple Developer Program for two continuous years or more. They will also need to have an app that had over 1 million first installations over a year in the prior calendar year. This effectively means that small app developers will not be eligible for the program.

Web Distribution will also restrict developers to only offer apps that are available through their developer account, i.e. they will not be allowed to distribute apps from other developers through their website.

Apple says that it will provide APIs to allow developers to distribute apps from their websites. The APIs can be used to provide apps with system functionality, back up and restore users’ apps, etc. They will also need to agree to the new business terms for the Core Technology Fee, i.e. app developers will have to pay a €0.50 fee for each first annual installation over one million in the past 12 months.

Fee waiver for Nonprofit organizations

The new rules have some exceptions for Nonprofit organizations, accredited educational institutions, and government entities. As long as they are based in the European Union's region, and have been approved for a fee waiver, these organizations will be exempt from all fees including the Apple Developer Program annual membership fee and the Core Technology Fee. This might be beneficial for open source app developers.

I feel that the new rules are still pretty restrictive. None of these restrictions apply to Android, which has allowed users to install third-party apps without any strings for several years. Even macOS doesn't have such constraints. Apple is desperately trying to protect the revenue it earns via the App Store, Developer Program, and of course the Core Technology Fee. I wouldn't be surprised if the EU finds Apple guilty of not complying with the DMA.

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Apple introduces new rule to allow users to download apps from developers websites in the EU
Apple will allow users to download apps from developers websites in the EU, but there are some restrictions.
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  1. Lemegeton said on March 18, 2024 at 1:16 pm

    Am I alone in seeing someone deliberately and maliciously trying to sabotage EU legislation?
    I would say that someone is clearly looking to be fined a percentage of turnover.

  2. John G. said on March 14, 2024 at 10:47 am

    Thanks @Ashwin for the article! :]

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